Republican governors' leader Bobby Jindal turned on his party's national leadership on Wednesday, calling on the GOP to suggest alternative ideas for healthcare and immigration reform rather than simply defining itself as the "party of no".
Amid signs of a growing backlash among Republican moderates since the failed government shutdown and the landslide re-election of centrist New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Jindal opened the annual conference of governors in Arizona with a stark warning to the Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives.
"We no longer want to outsource our brand management to the folks in DC," said the governor of Louisiana. "Too often in Washington, we are defined as the party of no. Too often we're defined by what we're against. We need to do a better job as a party of defining what we are for."
Jindal, who hands over chairmanship of the influential Republican Governors Association to Christie on Thursday, singled out healthcare reform when asked for policy areas where the party needed to suggest more alternatives. "Obamacare has to be repealed – I think it's an awful solution – but the president was right in diagnosing the problems with the American healthcare system," he told the Guardian.
"He was right when he said we need to bend the cost curve down, he was right when he said people with pre-existing conditions too often struggle to find affordable cover, he was right when he said people on the individual market buy care that is more expensive than those with economies of scale, he was right when he said we need to address those problems. So just repealing Obamacare is not enough. The status quo is not enough because those problems are still there."
Like Christie, Jindal is seen a leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, but he insisted the issue was a more pressing concern in the 2014 midterm elections where the party is seeking to hold on to its control of 30 state capitals and the US House of Representatives.
"Before we even start thinking about the next presidential race, we have got to go and win the war of ideas," said Jindal. "I am not interested in Republican fratricide, but I do think that as a Republican party we need to be advancing solutions. There are plenty of Republicans in DC who are frustrated and agree that we need to do more, whether it's on immigration, healthcare or education."
The criticism follows similar unexpected support for Obama from Christie, who told a conference of business leaders on Monday that the president should be given space to govern.
But their argument that pragmatic state governors should increasingly set the example for the Republican national party was also echoed by more conservative governors, such as 2012 presidential hopeful Rick Perry of Texas, who said the party needed to do better job of "talking to people's hearts".
"We need to transition the conversation away from Washington as the place where all of the decisions are going to be made," he told the conference plenary session. "The solutions are not going to be found in DC."
Perry, whose state is responsible for half net US job growth, also singled out immigration reform as an area where opposition among conservatives in Washington may be misguided due to competing economic growth from Mexico.
"The immigration debate will change substantially over the next 18-24 months," he said. "The discussion is going to be where are we going to find enough people to fill all of the jobs we are creating, because everyone who came over here illegally to look after the family is going back home."
Governor John Kasich of Ohio called on the party to fill the policy vacuum with conservative solutions. "Ideas give you energy; if you don't have any energy, you are not appealing," he told the plenary. "There is a tendency to rely on negativity and anger, but that doesn't create any vision or excitement."
[Image via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons licensed]